Russia evacuates its embassy in Kyiv as Ukraine mulls a state of emergency

Ukrainian army officer on train in Kyiv
A Ukrainian army officer looks at his phone while on a train in Kyiv, the capital, on Wednesday.
(Emilio Morenatti / Associated Press)

Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia on Wednesday as the region braced for further confrontation after President Vladimir Putin received authorization to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions.

Hopes for a diplomatic way out of a new, potentially devastating war in Europe appeared all but sunk as the U.S. and key European allies accused Moscow on Tuesday of crossing a red line in rolling over Ukraine’s border into separatist regions of the country. President Biden called it “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Moscow began pulling personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine, Russian state news agency Tass reported, a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry announced a plan to evacuate, citing threats. By Wednesday afternoon, the Russian flag was no longer flying over the embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, according to an Associated Press photographer. Police surrounded the building.


After weeks of trying to project calm, Ukrainian authorities also signaled increasing concern Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Russia and recommended that any Ukrainians there leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.

The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council called for a nationwide state of emergency, subject to parliamentary approval. Oleksiy Danilov said it would be up to regional authorities to determine which measures to apply, but they could include additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic, and additional transport and document checks.

Ukrainian Minister for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said a wave of denial of service attacks targeted official websites and some banks Wednesday, affecting sites of the parliament, Cabinet and Foreign Ministry and causing interruptions or delays to the sites of the defense and interior ministry, which controls the police.

These were just the latest in a series of signs of escalating tensions. Kyiv recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered breaking all diplomatic ties with Moscow; Russia said it would evacuate personnel from its embassy in Ukraine; dozens of nations further squeezed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets; Germany halted a lucrative pipeline deal; the U.S. re-deployed additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank, bordering Russia; and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

The White House initially stopped short of calling Russia’s move into eastern Ukraine an ‘invasion’ but then started using the term.

Already, the threat of war has shredded Ukraine’s economy and raised the specter of massive casualties, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.

Even as the conflict took a new, dangerous turn, leaders warned that it could get worse. Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to unleash the force of the 150,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, while U.S. President Biden held back on even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia but said they would go ahead if there were further aggression.

European Union sanctions against Russia took effect, targeting several companies along with 351 Russian lawmakers, who voted for a motion urging Putin to recognize the rebel regions, and 27 senior government officials, business executives and top military officers.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the sanctions only “a first step” and said more could follow. Sanctions are key because the West has ruled out taking on Russia militarily.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western leaders not to wait.

The financial options under consideration to punish President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine range from the sweeping to the personal.

“We call on partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Now the pressure needs to step up to stop Putin. Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”

Responding defiantly to the steps already taken, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, retorted that “sanctions cannot solve a thing” in a statement on Facebook. “It is hard to imagine that there is a person in Washington who expects Russia to revise its foreign policy under a threat of restrictions.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also scoffed at the sanctions. “Russia has proven that, with all the costs of the sanctions, it is able to minimize the damage,” a statement from the ministry said.

In Ukraine’s east, where an eight-year conflict between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed nearly 14,000 people, violence also spiked again. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and six more sustained injuries after shelling by the rebels, Ukrainian military said. Separatist officials reported several explosions on their territory overnight and three civilian deaths.

In the Russian city of St. Petersburg, several hundred people reportedly staged a rally in support of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics in Ukraine’s east, while Russia observed Defender of the Fatherland Day, which celebrates the country’s veterans and active service personnel and often sees shows of patriotism.

After weeks of rising tensions, Putin took a series of steps this week that dramatically raised the stakes. First, he recognized the independence of those separatist regions. Then, he said that recognition extends even to the large parts of the territories now held by Ukrainian forces, including the major Azov Sea port of Mariupol.

Finally, he asked for and was granted permission to use military force outside the country — effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions.

Still, Putin suggested there was a way out of the crisis, laying out three conditions: He called on Kyiv to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014; to renounce its intentions to join NATO, and to partially demilitarize.

But it was unclear whether there was actually any room for diplomacy since the first two demands had been previously rejected by Ukraine and the West as nonstarters.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday reiterated his call for talks with Putin. “Many times I suggested to the president of Russia to sit down at the negotiating table and talk. This is a question of dialogue, not a question of ‘condition,’” he said after a meeting with the presidents of Poland and Lithuania.

The Kremlin has previously brushed off such appeals.

The Russian leader remained vague when asked whether he had sent any Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could go, and Denis Pushilin, the separatist leader in Donetsk, said Wednesday that there were currently no Russian troops in the region.

Pushilin’s remarks contradict those of Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, who told reporters Tuesday that Russian troops had already moved in. Late Monday, convoys of armored vehicles were seen rolling across the separatist-controlled territories. It wasn’t immediately clear whether they were Russian.